BOSTON -- For most of 2011, the Red Sox have been the proud owners of the most prolific offense in baseball. For much of August, however, the bats have been quieted. And in this abbreviated three-game, two-day homestand that ended with a 4-0 loss to the Rays on Wednesday afternoon, they've been nearly silent.
David Price, one of the best lefties in the American League, was the latest pitcher to stifle the Sox, reeling off eight scoreless innings.
How stunning was the complete shutdown of Boston's offense over these three games against Tampa Bay? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time in Red Sox history the club had been limited to three hits or less in three straight home games.
"We didn't swing the bats real good the whole series," manager Terry Francona said. "They pitched very well. We didn't have a whole lot to show for it. Fortunately [Jacoby Ellsbury] hit the home run the first game or it would be a worse series. Price is pretty good -- a lot of velocity, movement, changeup; a lot to not like if you're in our uniform."
What is keeping the Red Sox down? Perhaps it is just the dog days of August. After losing two out of three to Tampa Bay, Boston is 8-8 this month. Francona's team has scored three runs or fewer in nine of those games, and less than five runs in 12 of them.
Against the Rays, manpower was an issue. David Ortiz, Boston's All-Star designated hitter, didn't play in the series because of bursitis in his right heel. Marco Scutaro, who is trying to get rid of back woes, was unavailable. Kevin Youkilis is playing through a back issue. Adrian Gonzalez's power has been way down, perhaps due to a stiff neck.
Then there is Carl Crawford, who just can't seem to get going for a sustained period of time in his first season in Boston. The left fielder went 0-for-9 against his former teammates, as his average slipped to .249.
"I was feeling good and this series, for some reason, I just wasn't myself, whatever the reason was," Crawford said. "I struggled this series. I guess I've just got to go back and watch some video and start from scratch again."
Meanwhile, Big Papi will be reduced to spectator status for at least a few more days.
"When not everybody is in the lineup, you can feel it," Ortiz said. "I'm not going to tell you that we're not hitting because I'm not playing. I'm part of the group. It's not a good feeling when you're not playing and seeing your team struggle."
The mini homestand now complete, the Sox head out to Kansas City for a four-game series that starts Thursday, and then a four-gamer in Texas beginning on Monday.
"We're a little beat up," said Francona. "We have some backs that are acting up and flared up. We went through a three-game stretch in about 24 hours where we didn't do much offensively. Those things change."
Red Sox righty John Lackey (11-9, 6.02 ERA) turned in a competitive performance, giving up six hits and four runs -- three earned -- over 6 2/3 innings. Lackey walked three and struck out seven.
The big righty threw 125 pitches, his highest total since Aug. 9, 2009.
"I felt great," Lackey said. "Honestly, I'd probably take one pitch back from the whole thing. Their guy pitched really good today."
The Rays didn't waste any time getting on the board in this one. Johnny Damon got things started with a one-out single to right, and he moved to second on an error by Darnell McDonald. Lackey walked Evan Longoria, and ball four was a wild pitch, allowing Damon to go to third. Damon then scored on a fielder's-choice grounder by Ben Zobrist.
Price held it right there, and the Rays struck again in the fourth, this time utilizing a solo shot off the bat of B.J. Upton.
That ill-placed changeup was the one pitch Lackey wished he could take back.
In the fifth, it was Longoria who roped one off the Sports Authority sign beyond the Monster Seats, making it 3-0.
The way the Boston bats have been swinging the last few games, that deficit loomed large. The first real opportunity came in the sixth, when Ellsbury led off by ripping a triple into the triangle area in right-center.
If the ball had caromed just a foot or two further, Ellsbury might have been off to the races.
"I'm not really sure -- I had my back turned," Ellsbury said. "[Third-base coach Tim Bogar] is my eyes in that situation, so if he's going to send me, he's going to do it when I'm in between second and third, but it was definitely the right decision."
Not even Ellsbury's triple could jump-start Boston. Dustin Pedroia struck out looking, and Gonzalez tapped one to the mound, with Ellsbury getting caught up between third and home. Youkilis grounded out to end the threat.
"Three three-hitters in a row by the starting rotation, that's outrageous, man. That's really good stuff," said Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Just after Boston couldn't convert, the Rays tacked on another run, as Zobrist drilled Lackey's final pitch of the day for an RBI double to left.
"We need to start winning some games," Pedroia said. "We all want to win the division. The Yankees aren't going to lose, so you've got to win, man. It doesn't matter who you run out there. You've got to win."
And to do that, Boston's bats will need to resurface.